Undergraduate study - 2023 entry
Open to the world

MA Archaeology and Social Anthropology

UCAS code: VL46

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: History, Classics and Archaeology

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Archaeology and Social Anthropology

Archaeology and social anthropology is the study of past and present human behaviour. This programme examines the diversity of human social and material culture both ancient and modern. Your undergraduate dissertation at the end of this programme can be in either subject.


Archaeology is the study of the entirety of our human past from the origins of humans several million years ago up to recent times within living memory. Archaeologists study surviving material or physical remains to reconstruct the lives, societies and cultures of past peoples.

Social Anthropology

In contrast, social anthropology is the study of human behaviour in living societies. Understanding a living society and its members involves participant observation. This can involve spending many months or even years living with, and sharing the experiences of, the people being studied.

Societies around the world vary enormously socially, culturally and politically. The study of these variations, and the common humanity that underlies them, is at the heart of social anthropology.

Practical skills and fieldwork

We emphasise the importance of training in practical archaeological skills. You can gain hands-on experience of artefact identification and analysis in practical sessions using artefacts from our own Vere Gordon Childe collection.

You will also complete three weeks of archaeological fieldwork at the end of Year 1 and have the option to undertake further fieldwork.

In later years of study you will also take part in projects in heritage management and public engagement, and the lab-based analysis of archaeological remains.

If you choose to do a dissertation in social anthropology you can conduct your own research for this in the summer break between Year 3 and Year 4.


You can choose to take a professionally accredited pathway in this programme. This pathway is accredited by the University Archaeology UK (UAUK) and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK and overseas. Accreditation recognises that the Edinburgh degree provides skills relevant to a career in the historic environment and provides you with the opportunity to join CIfA as a means of supporting your professional development.*

*(Revised 27 September 2022 to update accreditation information)

Year 1


In Year 1 you will study Archaeology 1A and Archaeology 1B.

These courses offer a broad introduction to our human past. They cover the period from the evolution of the first humans several million years ago, to the emergence of farming and the development of civilisations in Europe, Egypt and the Near East.

These courses also cover the key techniques that archaeologists use, including:

  • methods of site discovery, excavation and recording and analysing artefacts
  • more recent and innovative approaches to reconstruct the lifeways of past peoples, including the scientific analysis of animal and human remain

Social Anthropology

You will study introductory courses in social anthropology.

Social Anthropology 1A: The Life Course introduces you to the practice of social anthropology and includes such themes as:

  • gender
  • personhood
  • work and making a living
  • the house
  • consumption and exchange
  • health
  • the body

Social Anthropology 1B: Anthropology Matters asks what anthropology has to say about some of the most important issues facing us today. The course examines how anthropology contributes to answering questions about how our contemporary societies work.

The issues explored will vary from year-to-year. Examples include:

  • climate change
  • hunger
  • wellbeing
  • body modification
  • human rights

Option courses and fieldwork

You will choose from a wide range of option courses outside your primary subjects.

Over the long vacation at the end of Year 1, you will undertake three weeks of fieldwork.

Year 2


You will study the archaeology of Scotland, from the earliest evidence of human occupation at the end of the last ice age to the Roman incursion in the early 1st millennium AD.

Key themes include:

  • the world heritage sites in the 'heart' of Scotland (such as Neolithic Orkney)
  • human-environment interaction
  • the ways in which the environment shapes human behaviour
  • the lasting impact activities such as farming had on the Scottish landscape

A field trip to visit archaeological sites and visits to the Museum of Scotland are core components of this course.

You will also study Archaeology in Action. This develops your understanding of professional archaeological practice. It also explores exciting innovations in archaeological methods through real-world applications and hands-on practical exercises.

Social Anthropology

In Ethnography: Theory and Practice, you will study the theory and practice of ethnographic fieldwork through:

  • practical group work involving participant observation
  • writing of field-notes
  • conducting interviews

Social Anthropology 2: Key Concepts introduces you to the major ideas that define social anthropology today and the historical development of anthropological thought.

Option courses and fieldwork

You will again choose from a wide range of option courses outside your primary subjects.

You may have opportunities, normally in the vacations after Years 2 and 3, to complete archaeology fieldwork or other practical assignments in the UK or abroad. Such work is optional, but can be assessed as part of your programme.

Year 3


You will:

  • Study Theoretical Archaeology. This explores the history of archaeology from its antiquarian beginnings in the 18th-19th centuries and its development as an academic discipline.
  • Consider the theories that archaeologists have used to understand and interpret the remains that they have found and examine how these ideas have changed over the past 150 years.
  • Study Archaeology in Practice. This focuses on the contemporary practice of archaeology in the UK as well as internationally, providing an insight into the practical skills required of professional archaeologists.

Social Anthropology

You will choose at least two social anthropology courses from a range of courses on important anthropological themes, including:

  • anthropological theory
  • kinship
  • ritual and religion
  • consumption, exchange and technology

Option courses

You will select a further two courses from available option courses in archaeology and social anthropology.

Honours level courses in archaeology can focus on a time period or a geographic area, for example:

  • Mesolithic and Neolithic Europe
  • the prehistoric Mediterranean
  • ancient Egypt

Alternatively, courses can focus on a particular theme or approach, such as:

  • archaeology of human remains
  • archaeological illustration
  • conflict archaeology
  • ritual and monumentality
  • scientific methods in bio-archaeology

Dissertation choice

If you choose, at this stage, to write your dissertation in social anthropology, you will also have the opportunity to conduct your own research in the summer break between Year 3 and Year 4.

Your dissertation supervisor will help you to plan and develop your research project which can take place in the UK or overseas.

You will also take the course Imagining Anthropological Research in preparation for your fieldwork.

Year 4

In Year 4, you will:

  • Choose two archaeology courses and two social anthropology courses from a wide range of honours-level options.
  • Complete a dissertation. This can be written and supervised either in archaeology or in social anthropology, or on a topic bridging these disciplines.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2022/23)

Our facilities

The School of History, Classics and Archaeology is located in the heart of the city, within the University's Central Area. Here you will have access to:

  • a range of study spaces
  • our Student Research Room
  • research collections
  • an undergraduate common room

You will also have access to the University's libraries and computing facilities, located in George Square.

You will be taught in a range of lecture theatres and seminar rooms within the School and across the University's Central Area. Some of your classes will also take place at the National Museum of Scotland.

We have five archaeological research and teaching laboratories. These include post-excavation processing and wet chemistry labs and a large teaching laboratory for the study of skeletal remains.

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and explore our facilities and campus on the University's Virtual Visit site.

Take a virtual tour of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology

External resources

As well as using our own resources and those of the University Library, you can apply for access to the outstanding collections of the:

  • National Library of Scotland
  • National Museum of Scotland

Study abroad

There are plenty of opportunities to study abroad in Year 3 by applying for one of the University’s many international exchanges.

These cover many parts of the world, including:

  • Europe
  • North and South America
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Asia

These are unique opportunities to immerse yourself in different university systems and cultures.

There will normally be opportunities to complete archaeological fieldwork or other practical assignments in locations outside the UK.

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught by experienced staff with international expertise, through a mix of:

  • lectures
  • seminars
  • tutorials
  • field trips
  • lab-based practicals or workshops examining a wide range of archaeological materials

In the summer vacation at the end of Year 1 you will normally complete three weeks of fieldwork either inside or outside of the UK.

Fieldwork or other practical work in later years is optional, but it can contribute towards your final degree and can also contribute to your dissertation research.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed primarily through coursework and exams. Some classes also include assessed oral presentations, practicals and/or group work.

With an archaeology qualification from the University of Edinburgh, you will:

  • Gain practical, social, intellectual and theoretical skills.
  • Learn to think logically through developing sound research and analytical skills.
  • Be able to compile and critically evaluate evidence in order to formulate and present an argument coherently.
  • Become familiar with a range of disciplines, enabling you to demonstrate intellectual flexibility and the ability to quickly adapt to new situations.

Through fieldwork, you will develop a range of practical archaeological skills. These will enable you to appreciate more fully our human environment and its role in the contemporary world.

Where our graduates work

Many archaeology graduates find employment as professional archaeologists working for:

  • government agencies
  • universities
  • museums and heritage organisations
  • applied archaeological companies/consultancies

Our graduates are also well-rounded people with a range of transferable skills that will give you the opportunity to pursue a broad range of careers, for example in:

  • business
  • management
  • teaching
  • journalism
  • the police
  • the civil service

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S5 or AABB/ABBBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: no specific Higher subjects required. National 5s: English at C.
  • A Levels: no specific A Level subjects required. GCSEs: English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: no specific subjects required. SL: English at 5.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

International Foundation Programme

If you are an international student and your school qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to the University you may be eligible for admission to this degree programme through our International Foundation Programme.

International Foundation Programme

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • SQA Standard Grade at 3
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 54 in each component.

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

English language qualifications must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the degree you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MA Archaeology and Social Anthropology

Additional costs

In Year 1, we expect you to take part in an archaeological fieldwork project. Normally, the minimum requirement is three weeks of field experience. Archaeological projects often charge a participation fee.

We are able to make a contribution towards your mandatory fieldwork in Year 1, and also to fieldwork and practical work in later years if it contributes to your programme. However, the overall cost to you will depend on the type of work you choose and the location.

In later years, you may opt to undertake additional practical archaeological work in the vacations following Year 2 and 3. If you study abroad in Year 3, your costs will vary by country.

Research for a dissertation in social anthropology may incur additional costs when conducted overseas. Most students incur no additional costs as they either remain in the UK or do their research while studying abroad in Year 3.


For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding